Why everyone needs to stop hating on celebrities' beach bodies

Apr 29, 2014 at 4:58 p.m. ET

Our mental and physical health relies on focusing on strengths, not weaknesses, and certainly not the type of shaming featured in Page Six's recent article "Cover up, please! The worst celebrity beach bodies."

Heidi Montag
Photo: WireImage

From Rod Stewart to Rachel Zoe, the recent Page Six article attaches hard-blow messages directed toward the bodies of celebrities, young and of age and of a range of sizes. Page Six is potentially devastating to those already inclined to engaging in self-directed shame and can reinforce negative self-talk as it relates to individuals' body image. Shaming bodies by the media is harmful to everyone exposed to the material, including those celebrities shown with negative taglines about their bodies.

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While working in an acute inpatient hospital setting treating eating disorders, shame was often a major trigger for women and men to engage in maladaptive eating behaviors, including restricting food, purging by over-exercising or laxative abuse and binge-eating resulting in life-threatening medical conditions. Magazines articles were often a topic of discussion as the images and messages can be triggered beginning in early developmental years.

In their article, Page Six asserts that "Janice Dickinson sucks it in and it does her no favors." Nicole Richie was also featured in the article despite the fact that it has been well-documented that she struggled with body image issues in her younger years. Was it necessary to feature her with a back-handed "compliment" like, "Thankfully, Nicole Richie doesn't look like this anymore," next to an outdated photo of her running on the beach? The comment is still skewed to the negative and this can add to negative self-concept even for the readers.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger was shown with the tagline, "Just because Arnold Schwarzenegger said he'd be back doesn't mean we want to see him." Schwarzenegger is a bodybuilding icon and is still looked up to by trainers, fitness models and bodybuilders around the world.

There is nothing wrong with striving to be better physically; in fact, it is always recommended as long as it doesn't go to extremes. However, it is best (and longer-lasting) when the motivation to improve upon the fitness level of one's body is intrinsic (meaning it comes from within) rather than extrinsic (such as negative messages from the media). The Page Six comment "Rachel Zoe looks scarily skinny" doesn't help the cause as it reinforces the negative. It's wonderful that Page Six doesn't glorify "super-skinny," but shaming only adds to a negative internalization of messages by those at risk for self-dissatisfaction.

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The evidence-based therapies that are used to treat eating disorders include utilizing tools such as positive affirmations, reframing negative thoughts into positive thoughts, challenging irrational beliefs and practicing positive self-talk. Body image shaming is not anywhere on the group therapy schedule for an eating disorder program. It is critical that everyone focuses on strengths of people rather than weaknesses. Shame is often the root cause of eating disorders (whether with regard to binge-eating/overeating, or the other side of the spectrum: restricted eating/under-eating).

Whether or not the celebrities in these photos feel shame, you can guarantee that a portion of the readers of this Page Six audience personalize and internalize this type of shaming and its potentially dangerous messages. Perfection is an illusion, and many dichotomous-thinking individuals (all or nothing, winning or failing) have the irrational belief that they must appear as perfect to be accepted. The Page Six article unfortunately reinforces this message. If a person doesn't like what they see in others, I recommend turning the head and focusing on oneself (preferably the strengths, not the weaknesses).

Article written by Kim Chronister, PsyD, author of The Psychology Behind Fitness Motivation.